A recent study—first conducted in April and then followed in May-June—by the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), Brac University revealed that though online sales of health products and daily essentials were booming due to Covid-19, the ongoing pandemic took a heavy toll on the online retailers of fashion, cosmetics, and other imported products. Many who were trying to reduce the loss of revenue by cancelling orders and selling off their stock in April, 24% of them have since shut down their businesses in June.
In a webinar hosted today, Mehnaz Rabbani, Program Lead, Research, Policy, and Governance at BIGD, presented these alarming findings.
These online businesses usually see a rise in their sales on special occasions, such as Eid and Pohela Boishakh. But this time around, as both the events were observed under a nationwide lockdown, 79-84% of the entrepreneurs experienced lower revenue earnings than last year's Eid and Pohela Boishakh. Though the impact of this decline in revenue has been nothing short acute on female entrepreneurs who rely on their online businesses as the only source of income, it also has knock-on effects on those employed in these businesses.
The study found that within one month after the first round of survey, 121 employees were laid off. If things do not improve for these businesses, the study suggests that within the next seven months, nearly 550 more people's jobs could be at stake.
Selima Ahmed, Founder and President of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) and Member of Parliament said, 'There is no noticeable mention of "women entrepreneurs" in the COVID-19 stimulus package circulars published by Bangladesh Bank, although women entrepreneurs continue to play an essential role in contributing to the economy of Bangladesh.'
In response to this, Maheen Sultan, Senior Fellow of Practice at BIGD, Brac University, mentioned how the 5% allocated for women entrepreneurs in the Tk 2,000 crore stimulus package by Bangladesh Bank, is clearly not being translated or communicated with commercial banks.
Dr Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD clarified that this research is "exploratory"- with the objective of shedding light on a new, emerging sector in Bangladesh, rather than being a representative study, and that our priority is to maintain research integrity and avoid 'overclaiming' - "We believe this research can pave the way towards future strands of research in the digital space, which is our future thrust area. We are currently conducting a study on all kinds of MSMEs in Bangladesh - not just online businesses - and this research aims to be more representative in nature."
Researchers, policymakers, journalists participated in the webinar moderated by Maheen Sultan, Senior Fellow of Practice at BIGD, Brac University.